Vera Drake (2004) – movie review

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Movie Review by Jonathan Harvey

Starring: Imelda Staunton, Richard Graham, Eddie Marsan, Anna Keaveney, Alex Kelly

Director: Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh’s latest film VERA DRAKE, which he both wrote and directed, is already garnering awards and as its general release draws near, it is starting to generate some serious Oscar heat. On watching the film it’s easy to understand why.

Imelda Staunton stars as the eponymous cleaning lady Vera, who lives in a small flat in 1950s London with husband Stan (Phil Davis) and their adult children, Sid and Ethel. Vera works selflessly not just for her family but also for others, regularly visiting one sick neighbour and inviting another, Reg, to dinner to make sure he eats properly. But Vera’s charitable spirit goes further than her family realise, as she also secretly helps women end unwanted pregnancies, never accepting any fee. But when one girl whom she treats ends up seriously ill in hospital, the truth is uncovered and Vera’s world starts to crash in on her.

The film is a wonderfully touching tour de force by Leigh, who builds such warmth in his characters that you’d be hard pressed not to care about them as the tragic nature of the story unfolds, and although this is a very personal story it also raises the bigger debate about abortion itself, in a delicate and never didactic way. Imelda Staunton is truly excellent as Vera, and is surely deserving of an Oscar nomination for the way she breathes life into the role. The direction shows a lightness of touch that allows the story to unfold without ever deflecting from it, and the supporting cast (particularly Phil Davis as husband Stan) deserve unanimous praise for their contribution to creating such a believable world.

It’s a slow burner of a film, but staying with it as the story builds is definitely worth the effort, and if it’s a sensitive, thought-provoking drama that you’re after, you’ll be hard pressed to beat this.

5 out of 6 stars